In late September of 1991, Geffen Records publicist Susie Tennant put together the record release party for Nirvana’s Nevermind. The celebration took place at a small, downtown Seattle venue called the Rebar – but was cut unceremoniously short when Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl collectively instigated a food fight that got them ejected from the bar. The soon-to-be iconic trio retreated to Tennant’s apartment, something they had done many times before.
“We’d go there, drink too much, and trash her apartment. She was always really nice about it,” a wryly amused Novoselic recalled to Rolling Stone last night, standing by the soundboard at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, watching veteran peers and young emulators interpret Nirvana’s songs in honor of that landmark anniversary. (Watch video of the entire concert below.) “Bravo!” he hooted, clapping loudly as former Flop frontman Rusty Willoughby climbs the stage to perform “Pennyroyal Tea.”
The event was more than a nostalgic nod to that album’s culture-quaking success; it was a fundraising effort for Tennant, who has been battling ovarian cancer. EMP Programs Producer and Presidents of the U.S.A. guitarist Andrew McKeag and other music community leaders were just putting the show together when Tennant was diagnosed. “She’s such a vital part of this music community,” McKeag said that morning. “And when one of the mighty is stricken, we always feel this compulsion to do something.” Seattle responded in kind; the event had been sold out for weeks ahead of time.
The evening commenced with recently reunited pop-grunge vets the Fastbacks ripping through Nevermind opener “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with impressively youthful aplomb. “Twenty years later, who wouldn’t want to play this song?” crowed guitarist Kurt Bloch, dressed in a sharp white suit, beaming at the audience and cameras capturing the all-star tribute show to stream online for an international audience.
The rest of the multi-platinum album was addressed sequentially – and with varying degrees of success – by a diverse cast of Northwest musicians, including rising new artists such as rambunctious hip-hop outfit Champagne Champagne, who nervously flubbed lyrics, and pastoral pop act Campfire O.K., whose bucolic, banjo-inflected rendition of “Polly” was executed with eerie charm.
After Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan led his band Loaded through a robust version of “Lithium” and induced the evening’s first incident of joyful pogo dancing from the audience, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl appeared via video feed: “I’m sure you all love Susie as much as I do,” he said.
When the Presidents of the U.S.A. took the stage to perform “On a Plain,” Novoselic picked up bass duties to an outpouring of enthusiastic applause, which he immediately seized on as an opportunity to honor his late friend and bandmate. “I want to hear a special cheer for somebody,” he said, gesturing towards EMP’s sky-scraping ceiling. “I want to remember somebody – I want to hear a cheer for Kurt Cobain.” After a full minute of sustained and vocal reverence from an audience that included Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and Bleach producer Jack Endino, Novoselic smiled softly. “I could have said a lot of things about Kurt, but I think you just said it all.”
After the Long Winters closed the front-to-back coverage of Nevermind with a haunting and harrowing rendition of “Something’s in the Way,” a parade of seasoned locals offered up an encore set of non-Nevermind selections, including the ageless Young Fresh Fellows rollicking take on “About a Girl,” and singer-songwriter Shelby Earl cutting out every anguished and beautiful facet of “All Apologies” with heart-wrenching grace. When the Presidents and Novoselic took the stage one last time to close with “Sliver,” Tennant rose above the exhausting state that this week’s chemotherapy treatments had left her in, and danced gleefully alongside the band on stage.
Donations for Susie Tennant may be made to:
Susie Tennant Fund
c/o Wells Fargo
13273 Aurora Ave N
Seattle, WA 98133
Or online at http://susietennantfund.bbnow.org/